After tonight\’s presidential debate, I had two choices: set fire to my eyelids, or write a post about the debate.  I had just pulled the matches out of the drawer, when a friend of mine messaged me and guilted me into writing something.  So here we go.

I thought the format was a little strange, and the candidates look way overcoached in these \”town hall\” debates.  You can see the wheels moving in their heads… turn this way… look at the questioner… walk over and pretend their question was smart… and so on.  Sadly, for McCain, he occasionally looked like he was getting lost – like he was an old guy at Sentry who couldn\’t find the tarragon.  At one point, I thought he was going to wander right off the stage, sit in the crowd, and enjoy the rest of the debate from the third row.

In fact, mark it down – in Saturday Night Live\’s opening sketch this week, that\’s going to be the joke – the candidates wandering around and getting uncomfortably close to the questioners.  They\’ll have McCain sit on someone\’s lap in the crowd or something, and have him walk right in front of the camera as Tom Brokaw is talking.  Of course, none of it will be funny.  I\’m still not necessarily sure what the point of these SNL sketches is – impersonations aren\’t funny unless there are jokes actually attached to the impressions.  But they know all the political blogs will be linking to them whenever the ridiculously overrated Tina Fey does her next Palin impersonation.  (The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has written no fewer than four articles about Tina Fey\’s impersonations of Sarah Palin.  That\’s exactly four times as many as they\’ve written about the fact that MPS is going bankrupt in a couple years.)

I was pleased to learn from McCain that he will be purchasing my mortgage for me, in order to make sure I don\’t have to actually budget for my monthly payment in any way.  This is really getting absurd – it appears the goal of both candidates is to make America a giant sensory deprivation chamber.  Nobody\’s allowed to feel any emotion that could be considered good or bad.  The threshold of the pain we expect the government to ameliorate is directly proportional to the drop in the stock market – the more the Dow drops, the more we expect Congress to take the edge off.  And once the government offloads all my pain, if they can apply it to those fatcats that make lots of money (and pay all the taxes), even better.  Then again, if the government can save me from watching one more commercial for \”Frank TV\” during the baseball playoffs, that seems entirely appropriate.

Things got so bad during the debate that I actually gave McCain credit for saying health care was a \”responsibility\” and not a \”right.\”  I thought he was heading towards at least acknowledging that people should be encouraged to take more responsibility for their own health and the decisions they make for treatment.  Instead, he gave a mushy answer that at no point acknowledged that health care is largely a matter of taking care of ourselves, rather than asking government to do it for us.

It was at this point that I kind of zoned out.  Basically, debates are to help people who don\’t know much of anything to pretend they\’re politically engaged.  I\’m pretty sure the only reason people watch debates now is so they\’ll understand the opening SNL sketch.  But the whole discussion of health care actually managed to subtract from the public\’s knowledge base of issues.  We as a county now know less about health care as a result of their answers.  It\’s like anti-learning.

McCain did settle in and do a lot better during the questions about foreign policy, as should be expected.  And we all get that he loves General David Petraeus, and for good reason – but the General is getting to be too easy of a talking point.  At some point, Petraeus became the all-knowing master of world politics – like Willie Wonka in fatigues.  If I were Petraeus, just to screw with McCain, I\’d declare victory in Iraq to be contingent on Americans wearing their underwear on the outside of their pants.  Wouldn\’t that be embarrassing when McCain shows up for the final debate?

Well after the debate, Fox News posted the result of their \”poll\” showing 86% of their viewers think McCain won the debate.  Imagine that – 86% of Fox viewers who are allowed to call in or text their opinion think McCain won.  Why do they even waste our time with this nonsense?  It\’s just clear they have a deal with the cell phone companies to bait people into sending more text messages, for which they\’ll get charged.  Does anyone there care about being taken seriously?  Has a more meaningless statistic ever been run for two hours straight on a major network?

And I don\’t mean to be too tough on Fox – it just so happens I turn there after the debate because I can\’t watch MSNBC without wretching.  I flicked over to Chris Matthews for a brief moment, and he actually posited the theory that because McCain didn\’t mention William Ayers during the debate, that he was likely ashamed of Sarah Palin for hitting Obama so hard on it.  I\’m sure that was it.

(Incidentally, this is probably why I can never run for office – too many of my good friends are self-identified dirtbags.)

All in all, nobody really won the debate, but nobody did anything to embarrass themselves, either.  That\’s what\’s so entertaining about listening to the post-debate chatter from the talking heads: they all grade the debate as if there\’s no such thing as a half hour from now.  Ask Cubs fans what they think of predicting the future based on a few recent good performances.  All the heads think McCain\’s milquetoast performance dooms his campaign, until…the next debate, when their reaction will be equally as short-sighted.  I think the candidates know that debating well doesn\’t win you a campaign, but debating poorly can sure lose it, and prepare accordingly.  It\’s when either of them start swinging for the fences in their answers that can lead to a giant mistake that can euthanize their campaign.

Oh, and one last thing – was McCain\’s crack about hair replacement surgery a shot at Biden?

Prediction: In 30 years, candidates will still say they\’re for \”clean coal,\” and still, nobody in America will have any idea what they\’re talking about.